Presence and Absence: Kurt Jooss

My paper for Dancing Lives 2017 considers the dancer/choreographer Kurt Jooss (1901-1979). He is probably best known for his iconic role as ‘Death’ in his 1932 dance drama The Green Table. During his exile from Nazi Germany, in England, between 1933 and 1949, Jooss embodied his complex life in both dancing and choreography.

Kurt Jooss
Nationaal Archief and Spaarnestad Photo, donated in the context of a partnership program.

His dominating presence as a performer in these troubled times is juxtaposed with his absences from the stage and his company, Ballets Jooss. During these enforced estrangements he continued to live in the company’s repertoire. It was here that he made the transformation from choreographer drawing on his German background to that of someone rooted in English soil.

He became a British citizen in 1947, four years after premiering Company at the Manor, a dance he described as ‘so utterly English’. I consider Jooss in terms of presence and absence in his work to examine his life in England. I draw on archival materials and interviews I conducted with Jooss in 1978 to look at his dancing life historically.

Michael Huxley, Reader in Dance in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at De Montfort University, teaches and researches in dance history.  His specialist areas include early modern dancers 1900-1945; the work of the choreographer Kurt Jooss; dance, the natural and wellbeing in the 1930s.  His interests include the pedagogy of dance history, the idea of the modern dancer as choreographer in the 1930s and history of the Alexander Technique.  His teaching of dance history includes the early modern period, the emergence of new dance in the UK in the 1970s, and contemporary dance of the 21st century, especially the work of Akram Khan.

One thought on “Presence and Absence: Kurt Jooss

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  1. My Father spoke to me occasionally about Kurt Jooss as their paths within the world of music and dance crossed occasionally. Interestingly, discussions were often not about dance but about Kurt’s experience during the Nazi era in Germany before and after the war. He had little sympathy for the Nazis and their, to him, disregard of dance as a form of entertainment that should be aspired to by men. An interesting and fantastically artistic performer and instructor according to my father.

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